TORONTO - A glorious, cloudless summer afternoon north of the border just might have cost the Yankees a sweep.
Carlos Beltran lost a routine fly ball in the sun in the third inning Sunday afternoon, and the bad break changed everything for Luis Severino.
The rookie righthander, who had been coasting, seemed to lose focus for the next two batters, and Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista made him pay in the Yankees' 3-1 loss to the Blue Jays in front of a sellout crowd of 46,792 at Rogers Centre.
Instead of a 1-2-3 inning, Severino had to face Donaldson with Troy Tulowitzki on second. He singled home a run and Bautista hit a two-run homer to give the Blue Jays a 3-0 lead.
"I lost it when it was close to me," said Beltran, who pinch-hit a three-run homer in the eighth Friday night and also homered Saturday. "If I would have seen it, I would have caught it. The ball got into the sun and I just couldn't make the catch."
The play was ruled an error but was changed to a hit, which made the three runs earned.
Still, the Yankees (64-52) left Toronto with a half-game lead after arriving a half-game behind. They start a 10-game homestand Monday night against the Twins, who will be followed into town by the Indians and Astros.
"We did what we had to do," Alex Rodriguez said. "We came in and we won two out of three. Now we get to go home and play at home 10 games, so that's good for us."
Severino, 21, deemed untouchable at the trade deadline by general manager Brian Cashman, made his third career start and again was good. He fell to 0-2, but in his three outings, the Yankees have scored two runs while he has been in the game. They had only four hits and a walk off Drew Hutchison (12-2), who entered the game with a 5.26 ERA, and three relievers.
Hutchison shut out the Yankees for 52/3 innings before Jacoby Ellsbury homered off the facing of the second deck in rightfield. But the Yankees couldn't get Severino off the hook.
He allowed three runs, five hits and three walks in six innings, and his nine strikeouts gave him 18 in 17 innings. He has allowed six earned runs -- including the three that wouldn't have scored if not for Beltran's mishap -- 14 hits and four walks.
"I felt that promoting him, we'd probably get at least as good a performance from him as we would from most trade candidates," Cashman told Newsday's David Lennon after the game.
"It's pretty impressive to watch what he's done," Joe Girardi said. "He's [risen] to the occasion."
Severino retired the first two batters in the third before Tulowitzki, who struck out looking at a 97-mph fastball in the first, lifted a fly ball to medium right. Beltran settled under it but lost it at the last moment, putting his arms in front of him in self-defense as the ball nipped him in the side.
"That's part of the game," Severino said through a translator.
Said Beltran, "I just hoped to get out of the inning and nobody would score."
Instead, a Blue Jays offense that mostly was held in check in the first two games of the series pounced. Donaldson lined an RBI single to right on a 1-and-2 slider to make it 1-0 and Bautista crushed a 2-and-1 slider to left-center for his 28th homer and a 3-0 lead.
Said Severino, "It was supposed to be a slider down but it stayed up, and I paid for it."
Overall, however, the weekend could only be characterized as a positive for the Yankees. There was Friday night's eighth-inning rally, Masahiro Tanaka's dominance on Saturday and Severino's ability to shrug off the pressure of being inserted smack in the middle of a pennant race.
The Yankees have seven games left against Toronto, but none until Sept. 10 in the Bronx.
"It's two very competitive teams that played hard against each other and pitched well and runs were at a premium and they were good games," Girardi said. "What does it tell me moving forward? I don't know because we don't play them again for a while, but you have two pretty good teams."